In 1992, researchers recognized that sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) could be prevented simply by positioning babies to sleep on their backs rather than their sides or stomachs. Since then, the AAP’s “Back to Sleep” campaign has resulted in a dramatic decrease in SIDS deaths. Eliminating soft bedding and ensuring a safe sleep environment drives that number down further, but not completely. Clearly, there are other factors involved for other SIDS victims, and researchers are narrowing them down. Agata Blaszczak-Boxe reviews a new study which identifies “three major elements that contribute to infants’ overall risk of SIDS”:

First, some infants may have an intrinsic predisposition to SIDS, the researchers said. Second, infants who die of SIDS tend to be in a critical period of development, with those younger than six months being at the greatest risk of SIDS. The third element that contributes to the overall risk of SIDS in infants is their sleeping environment, including the position in which they sleep and the type of bedding in the crib.

The intrinsic risk is thought to involve genetic, developmental and environmental factors, the researchers said. For example, research has shown that boys and preterm babies are more susceptible to SIDS. Babies whose mothers smoked or drank alcohol during pregnancy have also been shown to have an increased risk of SIDS, the researchers said. And babies that have been breast-fed seem to be less susceptible to SIDS, according to the study, published today (Dec. 2) in the journal Pediatrics.


Rachael Rettner lists some of these intrinsic risk factors:

  • Premature birth/low birth weight
  • Being exposed to cigarette smoke in the womb or after birth
  • Poor prenatal care
  • Living in poverty
  • Having a brother or sister who died from SIDS
  • Being a multiple birth (twins or triplets or more)
  • Short time between pregnancies


From what we know today (links to posts related to SIDS on The PediaBlog are highlighted below), there are steps new parents should take to make a rare event — SIDS — even more rare:

  1. Place a baby to sleep on his/her back.
  2. Babies should sleep on a firm surface, such as a crib, and NEVER on a soft surface, like a sofa.
  3. Babies should not sleep in the same bed as their parents or other children. (Babies may sleep in a crib in the same room as their parents.)
  4. Soft bedding materials — pillows, comforters or quilts — don’t belong in a baby’s crib. Soft toys should also be kept out of the baby’s sleeping area. The safest sleep environment consists solely of a firm crib mattress covered by a fitted sheet, with no bumper pads on the crib.
  5. Avoid products marketed as a way to reduce SIDS risk, such as wedges and positioners. These are marketing gimmicks that have never been tested or proven to be safe or effective.
  6. Allow babies to sleep with a pacifier (unattached to clothing with a clip and string or ribbon).
  7. Don’t smoke during and after pregnancy; prohibit exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke and avoid other forms of air pollution during and after pregnancy.
  8. Don’t drink alcohol at all during pregnancy.
  9. Breastfeed babies, exclusively if possible, for their first six months.
  10. Immunize babies completely and on-time.